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Welcome to the Neighbourhood Nature School. This is an online learning hub for students from (K - 7) to learn about the environment, gardening and growing food together, our local food systems, exploring nature through observations and curiosity and  sharing fresh and healthy recipes. A variety of lessons and activities will be added to this page and to our Instagram page on a regular basis. Students and families can collaboratively learn together while learning at home, exploring their backyard and neighbourhood.  

Our content is linked to our Green Thumbs at School: Food Garden Lesson Book 






LESSON: All About Pumpkins

There's so much to explore about pumpkins, besides just carving them as Jack o' Lanterns  for Halloween or using them as decorations in the fall. 

Pumpkins were an important staple crop and  were  first introduced by the indigenous peoples to settlers to North America, however these plants are native to Central America and Mexico. 

Pumpkins belong to the family Curcurbita sp. which include squashes. 

Winter squashes are harvested in the fall when the hard outer skins have matured and protect the flesh inside from decay or damage.  Winter squashes can be stored in a cool, dry place after being harvested and can be enjoyed all winter long. 

Some of the most common winter squashes include:

  • Sugar pie 
  • Butternut squash
  • Orange Hubbard 
  • New England Cheddar (very sweet, great for pies)
  • Delicata squash
  • Acorn squash
  • Turkish squash 
  • Kabocha (green skin)
  • Red Kuri squash (firm and dark reddish- orange skin)
  • Porcelain Doll (light pink or blue skin)
  • Jarrahdale pumpkin 
  • Giant Mammoth

📷Image courtesy of Canva - Red Kuri, Butternut and Delicata squash

📷 Image courtesy of Canva 

Are all pumpkins all orange and round? 

Pumpkins range in various colours (orange, pink, blue, green, white), shapes and sizes including tall, round, oblong and oval and often have large seeds which are quite tasty if you roast them in the oven with some salt and olive oil.  

What does a pumpkin taste like?

A pumpkin (depending on the type) has a sweet flavour and is enjoyed in all kinds of recipes from soups, pasta, seasonal drinks, roasted with other veggies, made into desserts such as cakes, breads and the most popular being pumpkin pie! 

How big can pumpkins grow?

It takes a lot of effort and patience to grow a very large pumpkin. In October, there are several competitions  all over the world amongst avid gardeners and farmers who compete to grow the largest pumpkin in size and weight just for the honour of winning the top prize. A lot of planning and care goes into this hobby sport. 

The Life Cycle of a Pumpkin 

The best month(s) to plant pumpkin seeds is in late spring or late May to early June. Plant some seeds inside in a seedling tray or small pot with seed starting or potting soil and water to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out. Pumpkin seeds are quick to germinate and will start to emerge from the soil within 7-14 days. 

Pumpkins require the warm temperatures and longer days of sunlight in summer to grow and some varieties of pumpkins can take up to 4-5 months before they are ready to be harvested. Pumpkins also require a large space as their vines will sprawl and take over and the pumpkins themselves can get quite large depending on the variety that you decide to grow. 

If you have a pumpkin that you plan to carve for Halloween, clean and dry the pumpkin seeds from your pumpkin to plant next year! 

As pumpkins grow, they produce flowers. A plant has both male and female flowers that look similar but are different. Male flowers have long and thin stems and female flowers are short and often have a fruit/ovary attached. Sometimes a plant will produce more male flowers as they take up less energy. The flowers might last a day or two before they wither and fall off, so pollination is a very important process.

What role do pollinators play in helping pumpkins grow?

Bumble bees and squash bees are the primary pollinators of the cucurbit family of plants (includes cucumber, squashes and pumpkins) and they help transfer pollen from the male flower to the female flower by visiting each flower to drink the nectar (a sweet sugar rich liquid located in the flower. As the bee drinks nectar it vibrates and moves its body around and in doing so, collects grains of pollen on the fine hairs of its body and in pollen baskets located in some species on their legs. 

So the next time you see a pumpkin or carve it, thank a bee for all it’s hard work!

Save those seeds! Clean out, wash and dry those pumpkin seeds to plant the following year in late spring! 

Pumpkin seedlings planted from pumpkin seeds in early June when the soil has warmed to 10-15 C are starting to peak through the soil. 

As pumpkins grow, they produce flowers. A plant has both male and female flowers that look similar but are different. Male flowers are tall and have long and thin stems.

Female flowers are short and often have a fruit/ovary attached which will be where the pumpkin will begin to grow if the female flowers are pollinated by the different species of bees. 

A female flower that has been pollinated, a baby pumpkin grows! 

The pumpkin continues to grow in size in the  hot August heat!

Early September,  the pumpkin is maturing and changing colour from green to orange. Soon, it will be ready to harvest.

Mid October, this pumpkin has over ripened has not been picked. It is starting to decay/die in the pumpkin patch. 


Estimating weight (RHS School Gardening)

Pumpkin Math (Little Bins for Little Hands)

Pumpkin Investigation Tray (Little Bins for Little Hands)

Using all five senses to describe a pumpkin 


Scholastic: Pumpkins in the Primary Classroom Curricular Unit (PreK - K, 1-2)

BCAITC: Blossom’s Big Job: Growing pumpkin sprouts in the classroom 

Gourds Growing KidsGardening


Fall Harvests: Bringing in Food by Martha E. H. Rustad 

From Seed to Pumpkin by Wendy Pfeffer 

Little Boo by Stephen Wunderli 

Pumpkins by Robin Nelson 

Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbell 

How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin by Margaret McNamara 

The Pumpkin Patch by Margaret McNamara 

📷 Image from Little Bins for Little Hands 

LESSON: Wonderful World of Spiders 

Spiders! 🕷️

They have been called creepy, crawly and spooky.

They cause many of us to run away in fear, especially when we find one in our house, however spiders are a very important member of our ecosystem. Many people have a natural intense fear of this tiny, eight legged creature which is called Arachnophobia.

Let's learn together about this often misunderstood arachnid. 

What role do spiders play in our ecosystem?

What are the different ways spiders move?

Where do spiders live?

What is the material spiderwebs are made of?

What do they eat? 

How many species of spiders are there in Canada?

ANATOMY: Did you know that spiders are not considered insects. Unlike insects, which have three segmented body parts , pairs of wings and 6 jointed legs; spiders have two body parts (cephalothorax and abdomen) and 8 legs. Spiders do not have antennae, wings, or jaws to chew their food.  

Spiders belong to a class called Arachnids which include mites, ticks and scorpions. 

The cephalothorax (contains their head, eyes, fangs, and legs).The abdomen contains the spinnerets.

Other notable features include:

  •  An exoskeleton, which  is a skeleton that surrounds it's body on the outside.
  • Short hook like hairs on their feet which allow them to grip and walk or jump from spot to spot.

📷 Image courtesy of Canva -Orb Weaver

📷 Image courtesy of Canva

What is the material spiderwebs are made of?

Spider webs are made out of silk. Spiders have spinnerets, an organ located on their abdomen that produces the silk threads to make their webs. The silk is also used for wrapping their prey (almost like plastic wrap) and for protecting their egg sacs from predators. The silk is a natural fiber made out of protein. Some spiders build a new web each day, eating and recycling  the silk from the old web.

Scientists have long been studying and researching the silk the spider produces and want to reproduce a similar synthetic  fiber to create similar materials that are strong. 

What do they eat?

Spiders can go a long time without eating, however they don't have a preference and are not picky eaters! The diet of a spider depends on its type: spiders that build webs eat flies, mosquitoes, wasps and anything else that heads straight for their sticky trap. However,  hunting spiders like the tarantula, will hunt their prey and eat grasshoppers, beetles and larger insects, sometimes even other spiders. 

Spiders don't have jaws to eat their food, instead they have fangs. They turn their prey into liquid as they can't digest solid food. They paralyze and cover it with digestive enzymes which help make them easier to eat.

What role do spiders play in our ecosystem?

Spiders are very important and have a specific job to fill in the life cycle. Spiders are natural predators to other insects and help to control the population of insects that can cause damage to our gardens, farms, sometimes homes and other green spaces. These insects include aphids, flies, mosquitoes, some wasps, ants, stinkbugs, grasshoppers, moths, leaf hoppers and leaf miners. 

LIFE CYCLE: Spiders live for one or more years depending on the type (species of spider). A female spider lays eggs in a sac. These egg sacs can contain up to a 1000 eggs and can be found in crevices and corners or sometimes on the female spider. The spiderlings (babies) hatch in the spring and early summer and look like miniature versions of their parents. They don't stay with their parents for long, venturing out on their own, even without their siblings to start their own lives. 

In British Columbia, you can find these types of spiders: Orb Weaver, Wolf Spider, Tarantula, and the crab spider

Why do we see more adult spiders in the fall?

We often see more spiders in the fall as this is their mating season. 

ACTIVITY:  Go for a nature walk in your neighbourhood in search of an Orb Weaver spider. What is the shape of their web? How many rings can does the web have?

Take along a piece of paper and a pencil along to and draw the spider and it's beautiful web.   


Don't be Afraid of Spiders!

Spiders at Work (Nature on PBS)

Spider Shoots 25 Metres Web (BBC Earth)

Lucas the Spider 


I'm Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton

Walter's Wonderful Web by Tim Hopgood

Weaving Wonders: Spiders in your Backyard by Nancy Loewen

Secret Lives of Earthworms 

LESSON: Earthworms

Earthworms are wiggly and live in the soil, but they do so much more! 

How do they move?

What is the role they play in the soil?

What do they eat? 

Did you know that earthworms don't have eyes, or ears but they can feel through their skin! They have tiny bristles or hairs covering their body called setae which help them move.

They also have ring like segments called annuli

They also have five hearts and a tiny brain. Earthworms have an important job: to eat decaying plant roots and material and create air tunnels in the soil that will help water penetrate deeply into the soil. Worms don't have teeth, so they take in tiny stones and soil through their mouth. These are digested in their stomach and excreted/eliminated through castings (worm poop) which is very beneficial for the improving the soil. 

ACTIVITY: 'Dig' deeper into the world of earthworms by observing them first hand. Try the My Earthworm lesson from the SPEC Green Thumbs at School.  Supplies needed: garden trowel, or a tool to help you dig for worms, a ruler, a piece of paper, a pencil and a container to place your worm in! 

LESSON: Plant Life Cycles

All plants are living things and have a life cycle (live and die).

Can you think of other things that have a life cycle?

Some plants live less than a year like sunflowers and beans, while others can keep surviving and growing year to year like trees! 

ACTIVITY: Let's Grow Beans. Investigate the germination process and the different stages of a bean's life cycle. 


LESSON: Identifying Common Pollinators 

What is the role pollinators play?

Who do they benefit our local food systems?

What types of pollinators do you know?

Head outside using this free online pocket guide from Environmental Youth Alliance to identify some of the most recognized pollinators found in British Columbia. 

ACTIVITY: Plant pollinator friendly flowers. During the early spring, some of the first sources of food for bees when they emerge from their nests/hives are flowering willow, clover, crocuses,  cherry and maple blossoms and skimmia. 

As the seasons change from spring to summer to fall, our pollinators need a food source. Remember to plant herbs, native plants, and flowers that have various seasons when their flowers bloom. 

Summer: asters, daisies, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, alliums, flowering herbs, lavender, calendula.

Fall: Zinnias, dahlias, sunflowers, rudbeckia, calendula, asters, sedum, echinacea, catmint. 

Insects (Part 1) 

LESSON: Insect Anatomy 

Gardens are filled with insects! Some are beneficial (good) and some are pests (bad). Insects are invertebrates which means that they don't have a back bone or skeleton. They do have an exoskeleton which is waterproof, tough and protects their soft internal body. 

Some insects pollinate plants, while others provide natural pest control and some, well they damage our favourite crops. 

Where do we find insects? 

What role do they play in our ecosystem?

Where do insects live? What do they eat?

In part one of this lesson, we will explore insect anatomy and learn more about the three different body parts (head, thorax, abdomen). We'll explore the other features and functions too! 

ACTIVITY:  Build a Nature Bug 

Now that you've learnt about the different parts of an insect, it's time to put your knowledge to the test. Head outside, go on a treasure hunt to collect sticks, leaves, flowers in all shapes, colours and sizes to create and build your very own nature bug! 

Insects (Part 2) 

LESSON: Insect Life Cycles (K to 7)

Did you know that there are over 1 million insect species?!

About 55,000 species live in Canada.

How long do insects live?

Where can you find them?

How many species of insects are there?

Some insects are food for birds, and frogs, while other insects pollinate plants, provide natural pest control, and some, well they damage our favourite crops.

In part two of this lesson, we will explore insect life cycles and learn more about the different stages of metamorphosis in different insect families.

ACTIVITY: Observe insects in a bug jar

Insects (Part 3) 

LESSON: Beneficial Insects vs. Pests in the Garden 

How do some insects help us in the garden?  What do insects eat?

What insects have you seen in your school garden?

Where can you find insects in the garden? the soil? on leaves? 

In our last and final series on insects, we will explore which insects help us and are good for the garden vs. other insects that are considered pests and damage our favourite vegetables, flowers and fruit.

We'll learn tips on how to identify both the good and bad insects; how to best manage them in the garden without using pesticides. 

ACTIVITY: Using the Beneficial vs. Pest Insect ID cards, head out to a local park, your neighbourhood or your garden to find, identify and observe the various species in action. Can you correctly recognize which are beneficial (good) species or garden (bad) pests?

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